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Targeting earmarks

Congressional Republicans, their ranks swelled by campaigns that emphasized reining in federal spending, are promptly following through with an easy response: banning earmarks.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the GOP minority leader, announced Monday that he was swearing off his long-time practice of eagerly pursuing money for projects in his home state.

His reversal is a bow to the influence of the Tea Party movement, which helped the Republicans gain six seats in the Senate and a majority in the House of Representatives.
Republican leaders in the House have already taken the pledge to forsake pork-barrel spending, which although only a minuscule part of the federal budget -- $1.7 billion in fiscal 2009 -- has become a symbol of government excess and backroom dealing.

President Obama has also condemned the process although many Senate Democrats, jealous of their prerogatives and proud of their ability to win money for favored projects back home, oppose a ban.

They may be forced to take a stand even though McConnell's switch effectively settles the issue for both the lame-duck session and the new Congress that convenes in January. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democratic foe of earmarks, has joined Republican Sen. Tom Coburn in seeking a vote on extending the proscription through 2013.

Banning earmarks is symbolic and almost inconsequential in the budgetary scheme, but it resonates with voters concerned about rampant federal deficits.

Getting the government on sound fiscal ground, though, will require much tougher measures that entail sacrifice, something politicians, for all their fervid rhetoric, are reluctant to broach, must less enact.


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